La Verne Magazine
"La Verne's Borders: North, South, East and West"
Before There Were Houses...
by Enedina Perez
photography by Alen Zilic
Both a rustic and rusty remnant of the past, an old citrus truck, left
abandoned in a dirt lot along Avenida Del Risco, is one of the listless
reminders of the once-prosperous orange industry of 1930s La Verne.
It was called the banana belt because citrus raised here did not freeze.
This was the premiere place to grow citrus, recalled old time rancher Floyd
Bunnelle in 1977.
Today, the La Verne Heights plateau area where Bunnelle lived and worked
on the northwest border of La Verne is occupied by hundreds of homes built
in the early 1980s.
The city is left only with the memory of its proud heritage.
La Verne love affair with growing citrus fruit starting in the 1870s,
with the planting of the first groves. The first La Verne orange shipment,
grown by Joseph Wolfskill, travelled east on a train in 1877. That shipment
led to others -- La Verne oranges quickly became the most sought after citrus
in the world. Cooperative marketing began in 1892, with the establishment
of the Claremont California Fruit Growers Exchange. On July 31, 1909, the
La Verne Growers Association was chartered. The La Verne Orange Association
was probably the largest of its kind in the world.
In 1895, The Los Angeles Times reported that "around Lordsburg,
the Dunkers, who form the majority of the population of 2,500 inhabitants,
are making the desert bloom." But gaining water to irrigate the La
Verne Heights fields was problematic, unlike in downtown Lordsburg, where
a Miss Eckles boasted that she had dug six feet down to start a well. Water
was hauled in horse and wagon teams to the orchards until the process was
simplified by M.L. Wicks, an early subdivider, who installed a forebay that
diverted water to the upper part of La Verne. There was no slowing down
the northern growers now. M.L. Sparks set out 10 acres. W.S. Romick and
L.H. Bixby each planted about five acres at the same time. For nearly a
century, the citrus industry in La Verne did nothing but prosper. It not
only met its consumers' needs, but also those of the laborers'. By 1919,
1,000 train car loads of oranges were shipped, and by 1934, 1,800 car loads
of fruit were being sent. The University of La Verne's baseball fields were
the site of orange packing house No. 1.
Unfortunately, this uprise declined between the years 1925 and 1945.
One of the main reasons for this fall was a harmful virus called "quick
decline." According to Harvey Hayes, a retired citrus grower, "[It]
was a virus which attacked our root range stock only -- and when it hit
a grove, the trees would die in a very short time -- even in days."
By the late 1960s, it was more profitable to grow houses rather than oranges,
and northern ranchers began to succumb to subdividers' wishes.
Fields of houses now replace the empty holes left when the trees were
knocked down. Although not much evidence of the industry is left, one can
still see an isolated, abandoned and motionless windmill in the northwest
part of La Verne. And an abandoned rancher's car still sits where he parked
it adjacent to Marshall Canyon Golf Course during the heyday of the citrus
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